pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Modeling Humility

Reading: Matthew 3:13-17

Verse 13: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.”

Returning to the story of Jesus’ baptism found in Matthew 3, today we consider another angle to the story. Reading verse 13, we understand that Jesus took the initiative. He left where he was and traveled to the Jordan River. He came with a purpose as he waded into the water. Jesus’ purpose was different than anyone else’s. Emerging from the waters, we see that God praises Jesus. Why was this action pleasing to God?

Part of the reason is because Jesus was modeling something for us. He did this so that we would have an example to follow. Doing so, Jesus modeled the importance of baptism, an entry point into the faith for most people. Baptism symbolizes a heart commitment towards God. The other reason that Jesus waded in was also to model something for us. In a world concerned with power and status, Jesus flips the script. The one who should be doing the baptizing is baptized by another. Here Jesus reveals the depth of humility that would typify his ministry. It caught John off guard. Again and again, people in places of power and position were taken aback by Jesus’ humility. Those without power and position were drawn to his humility.

Humility continues to stand out in our world today. Pride and ego and an inward focus are more the norm. Seeing an owner clean a toilet or vacuum up a mess, seeing the leader stop to take time for one who is struggling, seeing someone with little giving to someone with less – these acts of humble, servant leadership stop the world in its tracks. It brings pause to those with power and position and it draws those without. As disciples of Jesus Christ, may we choose to daily model his humility and love for the other.

Prayer: Lord God, when the opportunity comes to step down into the river or to get outside my norm or comfort zone, lead me by the power of your Spirit. Use me as you will, O Lord. Make me a servant. Amen.


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Wondrous Love

Reading: Isaiah 12:4-6

Verse 4: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name; make known among the nations what God has done.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

Earlier in the week we read and reflected on the first three verses of this song of praise. We rejoiced in the depths of God’s love for us and we celebrated the fact that we can draw deeply from the well of salvation. Today we delve into our response to the gifts of love and salvation.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name; make known among the nations what God has done.” We are first to be grateful for these wonderful gifts from God. Calling out to God we are to express our thankfulness for a love that is unconditional and unlimited. Next we are to turn the praise outward. Yes, knowing and experiencing God’s love and the salvation we find in Jesus Christ is amazing, but it is not just to better our lives. We are to share this good news with others.

Isaiah encourages us to “sing to the Lord” and to “shout aloud.” In these ways we proclaim the “glorious things” that God has blessed us with. Doing so we can help draw others toward God, encouraging them to claim God’s love and grace for themselves, opening their lives to experience restoration and renewal. As we seek to live a life of praise and thanksgiving, we too will be filled with more and more of God’s love. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, what wondrous love you have for us! It is a love that remains ever when our love waivers. It is a love that washes us clean when we fail you. It is a love that knows no bounds. May I model well this love today so that others can taste and see a bit of that love. Amen.


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Great Love

Reading: Isaiah 12:1-3

Verse 2: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song.”

Isaiah 12 is titled “Songs of Praise.” Today’s little snippet is about our relationship with God and the battle we have with sin. In a couple of days we will look at verses 4-6, a song of celebration and praise for what God has done and continues to do in our lives.

In verse 1 we read, “I will praise you, O God. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away.” This is a promise – both to the people of God then and to us today. The chapter begins with this line: “In that day you will say…” Isaiah is writing then about a day yet to come. As he writes these words, Israel is suffering the consequences of their corporate sin. At times I’ve been there. In my experience there comes a time when I am sinning that it is no longer fun or enjoyable or whatever. Sometimes it is quick, sometimes it is prolonged, but there is usually a time of regret and guilt. And once in a while, as it was with Israel in Isaiah’s day, there is a time of living with the consequences of my sin. Always, though, God’s great love restores and redeems me.

This is what Isaiah is speaking of in verse 2, where he writes, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song.” When God comforts us and begins to draw us back into right relationship we know once again that God loves us unconditionally. Even though I turn my back on God again and again, God is ever there, waiting for me to face up to my sin so that I can once again turn my face to God. Our snippet today closes with these words of promise: “With joy you will draw from the water of salvation.” The depth of God’s love for us knows no bounds. With joy may we praise the Lord today for this great love!

Prayer: Lord God, even though my actions or inaction at times angers you, your love remains unconditional. You wait eagerly for me to turn away from my sin, to turn back towards you. Your salvation washes me clean once again and you invite me to continue my journey as a child of God. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this great love. Amen.


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Forever and Ever

Reading: Psalm 145:17-21

Verse 18: “The Lord is near to all who call on him.”

There is a closeness in the relationship expressed in today’s writing. It is a relationship built on time. All good relationships require that the interested parties put forth effort in building and maintaining the relationship. And, of course, there has to be a draw or a reason to be in said relationship.

In verse 17 the psalmist declares what draws him or her to this relationship with God. God is loving of all that God has created and is righteous in all ways. From God’s side, we were created in the image of God, specifically made to live in relationship with God. Simply put, God made us for relationship. That is why life is ultimately meaningless and without purpose until God fills that hole in our hearts.

In verse 18 we read, “The Lord is near to all who call on him.” God does not force relationship upon us. No, God waits patiently for us to choose relationship and then God draws near to us, depositing the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Because God is righteous and loving, God provides for us, hears our cries, saves us, and watches over us. And what is our response, according to the Psalm? We will praise the Lord our God forever and ever.

We praise God not just when we gather on Sunday morning. We praise God as we live out God’s righteousness and love in our lives. We praise God by sharing our faith with others by shining Christ out in all we do and say and think. We praise God by inviting others into relationship with the Lord our God. May we praise God in all these ways forever and ever.

Prayer: Lord God, you are there when I awake, when I lie down, and all times in between. You pour into my life, filling me with your love and grace, with your mercy and righteousness. Pour these things out of me and into the lives of others so that all may come to know you. Amen.


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Kind, Caring, Interested

Reading: Psalm 139:1-6

Verses 1 and 2: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me… you perceive my thoughts from afar.”

As we begin Psalm 139 today we are reminded that God’s love for us is intimate and personal. God knows us. God searches us and walks with us, individually. God perceives our thoughts, sensing our fears and doubts, celebrating our joys and pleasures. Before we can even speak a word, God knows it completely. God is all around and in us – “behind and before.” God’s hand is upon us, leading and guiding us. What great words of assurance. Like the psalmist expresses in verse 6, it is hard to wrap our head around the intimacy and connection that God desires to have with each of us.

While this is wonderful, there are folks out there who are disconnected. They are disconnected from God and they are disconnected from people. They might know if God but wonder where God is or how God could let them experience what they experience. They don’t know if God’s goodness and love. Some folks go through life largely alone, without human connection. They wonder why others don’t notice their loneliness or their pain or both. They feel God and the world are unkind, uncaring, uninterested.

The question for us as Christians is this: How do we connect these folks to our God, to the God who is kind, caring, and interested? How do we draw these folks into the family of God? We begin where God begins with us – seeing us, getting to know us, feeling what we feel. Like God, we invest in them and in their lives. We then allow the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts too, using our love and kindness to draw them into God’s love and kindness. Today may we make the effort to see those who are disconnected. Then may the Holy Spirit lead and guide our words and actions. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so wonderful to live in relationship with you. Use me today to introduce others to that relationship. Amen.


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God Will Not Give Up

Reading: Jeremiah 2:10-13

Verse 11: “My people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.”

As God outlines the case against Israel, they are invited to go to other tribes, to see how nomadic people live as they worship their idols. It is an image of what Israel could become. It is also a reminder that God chose Israel, leading them out of the wilderness and into a place of abundance and security. I too have had times of wandering in the wilderness. It is good to remember that God was faithful and led them and me to something far better.

God then poses a rhetorical question: “Has a nation ever changed its gods?” The implication is that even wild nomadic tribes keep their same gods. Continuing on we hear God’s response to the question: “My people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.” Israel has turned from the glory of God and of living in right relationship with God. They exchanged that for idols. This is the first step towards living in the wilderness. It was chasing after popularity that began my journey into the wilderness.

Calling on heaven to be the witnesses, God names the people’s 2 primary sins. First, they have forsaken the living God, the spring of living water. Second, they have dug holes in the ground, trusting in cisterns that can’t even hold ordinary water. What a sad choice the people have made. Yet God will not give up. Jeremiah will be sent over and over, seeking to draw the people back to God. The same is true for you and me. God will not give up. God sends the Holy Spirit and other voices to keep calling us back to faithful living. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are so faithful. Even when I wander, you are steadfast. Even if I wander off to spend time in the wilderness, you are still right there, whispering my name, reaching out to me. Thank you for your abundant, endless love. Amen.


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Grounding Moments

Reading: Psalm 42

Verse 5: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?… Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise God.”

Photo credit: Sophie Walker

Psalm 42 is written by the Sons of Korah. Korah was a Levite priest who led a rebellion against Moses, upset over Aaron being appointed to the role of high priest. Korah and his followers were swallowed up by the earth after losing a showdown before God. The Sons of Korah express their sorrow through songs of hope such as the one we read today.

The Psalm begins by expressing a longing to draw near to God and to meet with God. Tears have wet their faces day and night. Those around them ask, “Where is your God?” In verse 4 the emotions take a positive turn as they recall leading the procession to worship in the house of God. They recall the joy and offer thanksgiving for being a part of worship. Almost in response they ask and answer a rhetorical question: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?… Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise God.” Even though they feel isolated and alone, the Sons of Korah know that God is faithful. They know that they will again worship God with joy.

We all have experiences in life when we long for God or when God feels distant or when we feel alone and isolated. Maybe you’ve not led a joyful procession into worship, but when have you felt joy from your faith or when have you enjoyed time in God’s divine presence? These are your grounding moments – the moments that you can reflect upon and find assurance and hope. Take a little time now to reflect on these experiences and then to praise God for these experiences.

Prayer: Lord God, those times when you have been tangibly present to me – these are like anchors for my soul. In the valley and other trials, they are like lights shining in the darkness, guiding me back to you. Thank you for your faithfulness and steadfast love. Amen.


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Connect and Renew

Reading: Psalm 104:24-34 and 35b

Verse 33: “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.”

Photo credit: Micah Tindell

Psalm 104 is all about this place that God created, cares for, and sustains. It is about seeing this amazing world as the work of God’s hands, mind, and heart and then praising God in response.

In our verses for today the psalmist recognizes the great diversity found in the sea as well as God’s connection to each and every creature. They gain life through God’s Spirit and they “return to dust” when God takes their breath away. These things are true for all of creation, including you and me. There is an intimate connection between God and all of creation.

How do we sense that connection? How do we “renew” our connection when it seems weak or frayed? One way to do so is to get out into creation. For example, on Monday my wife and I hiked about 4 miles in the pouring rain. It renewed my soul to walk among the pines and to feel and smell God’s hand watering the earth. Many times along the way I thanked God for the rain and for the beauty all around.

For some, connection to God comes in and through connection with others. That was evident last night at VBS! For some the connection is made or renewed through a drive or bike ride. For some it is through time in the kitchen or wood shop or craft room. How do you connect to God? How does God renew you?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many ways you draw me and all of us into relationship and connection. Thank you for the constant love that pours out for all of your creation. You are an amazing God and I love you so much! Amen.


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The Spirit of Adoption

Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Verse 15: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear again, but you received the Spirit of adoption.”

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Our Romans 8 passage reminds us of whom we belong to. It reminds us that we are first and foremost daughters and sons of God. As we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit, our adoption becomes clearer to the world as we better reflect our family resemblance. At times doing so is easy and within our comfort zone. Maybe we help a neighbor by picking up some groceries. At other times the call of the Spirit is challenging and calls us to step outside of these comfort zones.

The Disciplines devotional for today uses the late John Lewis as an example of one willing to risk much for the advancement of God’s kingdom. Lewis did so primarily in the world of politics. He allowed the Holy Spirit to push him to be a champion of racial justice, which began in the battle to end segregation. Lewis is known for coining the phrase “good trouble.” Led by God’s mandates to live and to acts justly, Lewis willingly and obediently got into good trouble.

In verse 15 we read, “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear again, but you received the Spirit of adoption.” God didn’t draw us into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ just to sit in our pew once a week. God drew us into relationship so that we would be equipped and empowered to go into the world. Where might the Holy Spirit be calling you? For me, God has placed a call to minister to those being impacted by dementia. Led by the Holy Spirit, we are moving in that direction. Where might the Holy Spirit be calling you? Maybe it is to a friend or family in need. Maybe it is to a place of injustice or oppression. For each of us, may we lay aside our fears, trusting in God’s Spirit as we seek to live as daughters and sons of Jesus Christ, the Lord of life.

Prayer: Lord God, how shall we proceed? When and where do you want us to go? By the power of your Holy Spirit living in us, reveal your desires for our life and for our witness. Amen.


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Made Known

Reading: Psalm 67

Verses 1 and 2: “May God be gracious to us and bless us… that your ways be made known… your salvation among the nations.”

Today’s Psalm is one that begins to see beyond Israel. It is one that calls the people of God to be a light to the world – a light so that others too may come to know God. One could argue that this Psalm and these words are very relevant to the church today and to our lives as ones tasked with “making disciples of all nations for the transformation of the world.”

The psalmist begins by inviting God’s grace, blessings, and presence into the lives of the faithful. But the purpose is not selfish. Others will notice, will see and be drawn towards God. Like a moth to a flame, others will be drawn to God and will come to know the joy of salvation. This spirit continues in verse 4 as we read, “May the nations be glad and sing for joy.” There is a desire for God to touch others, to draw others into the grace, blessing, and presence. This remains the heart of the Christian faith and the purpose for our living.

As we consider the day and week ahead, how will we live as light to the world? How will the words that we speak and the actions that we take draw others toward Jesus Christ, the light and hope of the world? As we consider these questions, may the Holy Spirit fill us with the love of Christ, equipping us to share the good news of Jesus Christ this day and week.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with a spirit of love and generosity, readying me to shed abroad your light and love and hope this day and this week. Through me may others be drawn to your salvation. Amen.